Thursday, October 25, 2012

Am I Too Hard on Whiskey?

Lately, I've had a few comments suggesting that maybe I'm too negative about whiskey, that there's nothing out there I like. Heck, maybe I don't even like whiskey at all. While I make light of it, it's a legitimate question: am I being too hard on whiskey?

I certainly admit to being a hard judge. I started this blog as recommendations for a small group of readers who were mostly my friends. My feeling was that if I recommended something for them to spend their hard earned money on, it was going to be something I felt strongly about.

Even though the audience for the blog has grown by leaps and bounds since then, I still take that same attitude. I will always honestly say what I feel about a whiskey. That doesn't mean any given reader will agree with me, but it's all I can do. For that matter, there are a number of blogs out there that give mostly very positive reviews. That's not a criticism of those blogs, and I have no reason to believe they are not being every bit as honest as I am, but if you mostly want to hear about how good most whiskey is, there are a lot of people who have palates that will accommodate you.

That being said, I don't think it's all my fault. As I recently wrote, the Golden Age of Whiskey is over, and I honestly feel that the new releases we are seeing these days (and new releases are what most bloggers write about) are simply not as good as they used to be. It used to be that new releases meant a company had something different to offer, perhaps something older, higher proof or a unique mashbill. Over the last few years though, spirits companies have figured out that people like new releases and will buy them, so you get high priced line extensions that aren't really much different from current offerings, though there is usually some story to go along with them (survived a tornado, aged on a boat, named for a felony, etc.).

The truth is that I do like lots of whiskey. In another few months, I'll release my holiday gift suggestions, and I've had no problem compiling them from this year's new releases. While I won't swoon over every new bottling, there's plenty out there that I like and even love, though it's not usually the most hyped new release.


Florin said...

Sku, keep up the good work. It's no fun to pay hard money on a bottle of whisky praised by this and that blog only to find that what's inside is "meh". I find that your tastes and threshold for good whisky line up well with mine, and you've already saved me a good deal of money. And helped me spend even more!

Justin said...

Its your blog, Sku. You are free to bag on any whiskey you like. Personally, I like private bloggers such as yourself who speak freely about whiskey reveiws instead of cowtowing to the pressure to positively review a whiskey because you got a free sample. You and bloggers like yourself are a great counterpoint to the reviews that are bought and paid for to promote brands.

But as you welcome comments I occasionally feel moved to voice my own opinion. Most of the time my opions line up with yours.

You are not too hard on whiskey. Keep up the good work. Your voice is appreciated.

Lazer said...

Its funny you posted this today. I just bought some '09 birthday bourbon, which got a lot of negative reviews at the time, which is my guess why its still on the shelf, anyway, I only bought it so I can see what all the haters were talking about. There were some veteran whiskey reviewers that did like it, but they were the exception.

Its good to write an honest review. It keeps things consistent. I know by now that if sku doesn't like something that doesn't mean I won't, but if sku likes it, then its probably very good,... or very weird.

sku said...

but if sku likes it, then it's probably very good,... or very weird.

Lazer, I may make this my tagline!

David D said...

I hope all of your holiday recommendations will not be available anywhere. We need to keep these lists consistent.

We need to be negative to push whisky companies to work harder. I finally talked with Diageo today and it was amazingly positive and optimistic. It all started from being honest about I felt. Your honesty keeps me and plenty of other people in check. It's all part of the balance.

newtoast said...

sku, I'm glad you finally brought this up. I've been wondering for a while now whether you even get the point of writing a whiskey blog.

New whiskey is always good. New whiskey in a cool bottle is great. New whiskey in a cool bottle with a gimmicky backstory or name is best. Bonus points are awarded for scarcity, a price point above $75, or being named for a distillery that doesn't exist. Reviewing bottles that have been widely available for more than three years is an outrageous waste of your time and your readers' attention. Don't ignore nose and palate altogether, though; whiskey blog readers need tasting notes they can parrot to their friends and for whatever reason some labels don't include them.

It's not complicated. Most of your peers have figured it out. Get with the program already.

Lazer said...

tag away my friend!

NP said...

It seems to be cultural for people to tend to be super positive and exaggerate: one hasn't seen somebody for a week and it is "a million years", an average meal is "awesome" and an ok looking girl a "bomb".

It is refreshing to read your posts.

Keep up the good work

Steffen said...

The whisky world has plenty of happy fans-bloggers. Allthough whisky is in general almost always an enjoyable product it's nice to see someone that wear consumers glasses :-)



SteveBM said...

I agree with you that a good portion of the new releases over the past few years really aren't much to write home about. They're more of the shiny new object that everyone will flock to and then dump when the next shiny new object comes up. It's pure sensationalism. We see it with expensive restaurants and clubs here on South Beach all the time...

I think you're honest and I appreciate you sharing your opinion. I also like the sarcasm and tomfoolery that goes on here. Thanks for sharing it all.

BarrelChar said...

The brutality of your honesty and clarity of your tasting notes sets you apart. When you recommend something, I can trust it, and that goes for the rest of the crew on LAWS: untainted by advertising or industry pressure, and never whores for the free-sample gravy train.

It's a joy to see you give out so many "C" and "B-" ratings. Not only does it help calibrate the rest of your reviews (so the "B or better" ones are meaningful) but your honesty also confirms the sad state of whiskey: most of the new releases are pretty piddling. Distilleries shouldn't be congratulated for producing weak, overpriced dross.

The insidious tendency to overrate whiskeys plagues most other review sites and renders them functionally useless. It's more of a flirtation diary where writers with dubious palates pen love letters to every new bottle. Is seemingly every bourbon--including Maker's Mark 46--really worthy of an 8.9 or better and gushing tasting notes? Does every whiskey--including Rebel Yell--actually earn a B+? Did Angel's Envy deserve a 93 point rating?

It's like the bumpkins who give enthusiastic 5-star Yelp ratings to "Olive Garden." Would any sane person rely on their other restaurant picks?

So many other easy-to-please critics repeatedly discredit themselves with their low standards. You are a voice of reason, please don't change. said...

I've always enjoyed your reviews for their honesty. I love almost all whiskies and can find something good to talk about in most (which is why I don't rate them on a scale -- I don't want to mislead people who don't know my writing or palate). So, I'm on the softer edge of things because of that. The whisky world needs people on the firmer edge to help balance things out and to give people a full picture before they drop their hard-earned money. Keep up the honest work.

sku said...

Thanks to all for your comments, and don't worry, I'm not about to soften my reviews.